The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Shutdown Stress 2019

Posted by | January 25, 2019 | Filed under: Opinion

How is it that a National Estuarine Research Reserve stays open and operational during a federal shutdown? How is this lengthy (and arguably unnecessary) shutdown affecting everyday activities? How long will it be before serious consequences set in?

Site unavailable: Web page found at oceanservice.noaa.gov on January 23, 2019.

Web page found at oceanservice.noaa.gov, the Wells Reserve's parent service, on January 23, 2019.

Unique Partnership to the Rescue

About 2/3 of the reserve's annual funding comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Here in Maine, the Wells Reserve is locally operated and overseen by the Reserve Management Authority, a quasi-governmental state entity to which federal funds for reserve expenses, for this current year, have already been delivered. Another third of the reserve's budget comes through the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Laudholm Trust. Fortunately, the Wells Reserve's staff is receiving paychecks and reserve bills are being paid… for now.

Laudholm Trust continues its work to raise the supplemental operating and capital project funds necessary for 2019.

Inconvenience? Or Worse?

We're following the news. We know this high-level disagreement is disrupting personal and professional lives in dramatic ways. All in all, the Wells Reserve and Laudholm Trust are, so far, mostly unscathed. But we don't have to look hard to notice the little things that could become bigger things.

"We're feeling it in our partnerships." Across all federal programs, including the National Estuarine Research Reserve System management division, collaborations and consultations are hampered or at a standstill. The Wells Reserve's frequent interactions with individuals in federal agencies—NOAA's National Ocean Service, Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service, and more—have largely ceased. In particular:

  • Our application for a restoration grant had to be submitted by its deadline without the benefit of consultation with integral federal partners. This is like shooting at a small target with our eyes closed.
  • Our research program had to put on hold a planned meeting to discuss management and servicing of the Wells Harbor tide gauge.
  • Guidance on our ongoing Sentinel Site preparations is gone, delaying participation in this national program.
  • This summer's camp assistant, coming to the reserve through the NOAA Hollings Scholar Program, was supposed to visit Wells for an introduction to the site and its people this week. Her trip had to be canceled and she can't reschedule. (We still hope to see her in June.)
  • A promising new Graduate Research Fellowship program designed specifically for the reserve system remains in limbo while potential applicants redirect their expertise and career searches elsewhere.
  • The planning committee for a 2-day regional meeting of the four New England reserves in February canceled the meeting rather than spending significant time preparing for it. The possible lack of federal reimbursement funds for travel meant full attendance could not be assured.

How Long Does This Go On?

Science is already suffering from this shutdown. With each passing day, more data is lost, more projects are set aside, and more aspirations are extinguished.

Here on our hilltop in Wells, we can't stay open indefinitely with hobbled partnerships. We can't keep shuffling funds and carrying on with business as usual (or nearly so) in a partial vacuum.

By March, deep worries will set in. On July 1, a new fiscal year begins. What then? Let's not go there.

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